Blog Tour: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Thank you to Flatiron books for gifting me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Publication Date: September 7, 2021

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Pages: 304

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 5/5

Trigger Warning: Check out my Goodreads review here

This deliciously creepy thriller is another stunning work of fiction from the queen of the unreliable narrator, Alice Feeney. Amelia and Adam are having troubles in their marriage so when they win a weekend away in Scotland, and their anniversary is coming up, it seems perfect. Amelia has been wanting to get Adam, a workaholic, away to spend some quality time so she jumps at the chance to plan this trip. However, we quickly realize not only how far things have unraveled between them but also that things are not as they appear with their vacation. Adding to the intrigue is Adam’s prosopagnosia which means he can’t recognize people’s faces. This story is seamlessly interweaved with letters Adam’s wife writes every year on their anniversary that she doesn’t intend for him to read.

There is so much to sink your teeth into with this beautiful but insidious story. Not only is the format of this story brilliant because of the letters that are perfectly placed throughout but Feeney also balances telling the complete story of their marriage along with the spine-chilling situation in Scotland. Despite all the moving parts of this story it still manages to be perfectly paced. I was gripped from the first chapter with the atmospheric setting. I do think a few bits of this book were a little overwritten but overall I was blown away by the gorgeous and mesmerizing writing. Feeney might also be the queen of a great red herring because this book takes you on a whirlwind ride where you aren’t quite sure what is happening.

I’m sure by now it is no surprise that this is one of my favorite books of all time. If you love thrillers then this is one that you cannot pass up. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of thrillers then I still highly recommend this one. Regardless of genre this is easily one of the best books to come out this year and you don’t want to sleep on it. Feeney is a true master of her craft and her talent only seems to improve with each book.

Sometimes home is more of a memory than a place.”

Kind lies are the cousins of white ones.”

We are our parents’ echoes and sometimes they don’t like what they hear.”

The scariest haunted houses are always the ones in which you are the ghost.”

~Cassie

His & Hers By Alice Feeney

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Publication Date: July 28, 2020

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Pages: 320

Genre: Thriller, Domestic thriller, Mystery

Rating: 4/5

His & Hers is a twisty tale filled with unreliable narrators with lots of secrets and an explosive ending. A woman is found murdered in the woods and we follow one of the detectives, Jack, and news reporter, Anna, as they are sucked into the investigation. As the story unfolds we also get flashbacks to when the characters were teenagers and we learn how the events from their past are related to what is happening currently.

We follow three narrators, Anna, Jack, and the killer which makes for a very interesting and enthralling read. There are constant reveals as the story is being told which makes it hard to put down. I had no clue as I was reading what was going to happen next. I did guess who the killer about half way through but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all. The beauty of this story is the way everything is slowly unraveled. I loved the back and forth way of telling the story primarily through Jack and Anna.

None of the characters are particularly likable which I think works because everyone that we meet in the story is suspicious. It does have the tired trope of an alcoholic British woman but I think Anna’s character is done in a way that it makes sense. This whole story takes place in two days which helps keep the pace of the book at a steady pace. I wasn’t a fan of how the flashbacks would happen seemingly out of nowhere. I would have preferred them to get their own chapter to help keep the format of the story consistent. However, the flashbacks not only (eventually) gave us the whole picture but they also served as a sort of foreshadowing of what was to come in the present storyline. There are a few trigger warnings though for things like sexual assault, rape, and the torture and mutilation of cats so please be aware of that.

Alice Feeney is the queen of the unreliable narrator and this book is no exception. This book does require some suspension of belief at certain points but overall Feeney does a great job of entertaining the reader. If you love domestic thrillers then this is one that I think you will really enjoy. It is getting to be that time of year where we are spending a lot of time outdoors and His & Hers would be a great one to throw into your bag and get lost into the world of Jack and Anna while you are at the pool/beach.

~Cassie

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Published: March 17, 2020

Publisher: Berkley

Pages: 320

Genre: Psychological thriller

Rating: 5/5

This insidious story follows a dual timeline with dual mother and daughter narrators. Rose Gold begins her story right after her mother, Patty, has been convicted of child abuse for poisoning Rose Gold to gain sympathy and attention for taking care of a sick child. Patty’s story picks up on her last day of prison as she waits for Rose Gold to pick her up. Immediately, the reader is confronted with the question of what would motivate Rose Gold to continue to be in her mother’s life and why is she the one who volunteers to take her in?

This story is obviously inspired by the infamous Gyspy Rose Blanchard case but Wrobel does an incredible job of turning an already hideous and familiar story into one even more devious. The pacing and formatting were perfectly crafted to build the story up to a cunning finale. Rose Gold is trying to make a life for herself after being kept in a bubble by her mother for her entire life and this juxtaposition of her in the past versus how she is around Patty five years later kept me captivated. There is such a gap between those two timelines and as we get closer to merging them together I was floored by the depths that Wrobel takes the story.

It was interesting, to say the least, being in Patty’s head. She has such a warped way of looking at the world that I almost enjoyed reading her narrative because I wanted to see what she would be thinking/doing next. I really liked that Wrobel used Patty to tell the story in the present day because it not only helped give a complete story but it also made Rose Gold’s parts more impactful and suspenseful.

If you are looking for something to read during the upcoming spooky season then I highly recommend this sinister psychological thriller. I went into it thinking it was just a contemporary and I was pleasantly surprised that it was so much more. I am blown away that this is Wrobel’s debut novel and I am eagerly anticipating what she comes up with next.

Blog Tour: These Vengeful Hearts By Katherine Laurin

Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. They also provided all graphics and information.

These Vengeful Hearts  

Katherine Laurin

On Sale Date: September 8, 2020

9781335145871, 1335145877

Hardcover

$18.99 USD, $23.99 CAD

Young Adult Fiction / Thrillers & Suspense 

Ages 13 And Up

368 pages

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Mean Girls meets Siobhan Vivian’s The List in THESE VENGEFUL HEARTS, an utterly addictive standalone YA debut that follows 16-year-old Ember Williams as she seeks revenge against the Red Court, a secret organization of Heller High’s most elite female students that specializes in granting and requesting favors—and which is responsible for the accident that left her older sister paralyzed.

A thrilling novel about a secret society and the dangers that lie in wait for anyone brave enough to join—perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus, Kara Thomas, and Maureen Johnson.

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities known only by their leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Now, she’s determined to hold the organization accountable by taking it down from the inside. But will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?

Review

This is a really fun, perfectly paced, YA thriller that is centered around the taking down of a secret society. Ember is the typical straight A, perfectionist, student except for the fact that she has a vendetta against the Red Court and has infiltrated them to take the Red Queen out. I really appreciated the agony and inner conflict that Ember dealt with has she carried out her Red Court orders. The favors and jobs that the Red Court takes on all felt devious but also very realistic to a high school experience so Laurin did an incredible job toeing that fine line. Of course, being a YA, there is some romance involved but it was the competing for the top spot at school trope and we have feelings for each other trope so it was everything my angsty loving heart enjoys. The Red Court was such a well thought out organization and I loved slowly understanding all the moving parts and how it all worked. I really liked how the story unfolded and I wouldn’t mind reading more from this world in the future. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the Truly Devious serious because Ember has a few Stevie vibes and I could see them being friends. This book reminds me a lot of One of Us is Lying but if you love YA thrillers you should definitely check this out.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Katherine Laurin lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, and tiny dog. When she’s not writing, Katherine enjoys reading, traveling, hiking, and listening to true crime podcasts. These Vengeful Hearts is her first young adult novel.

Excerpt


chapter one

Of the ways I’d want to start a Monday, finding a car covered in blood was not one of them. The murmurs began just after first period, and fragments of muted conversation led me out to the Heller High parking lot. I was curious to see the spectacle drawing so much attention.

The crush of students flowing out of the school buoyed me along in a tide of bodies. Between gaps in the crowd, I caught glimpses of the word smeared across the car’s windshield in blood red relief.

LIAR 

Gray clouds hung low, casting the macabre tableau in watery light. The chill that slithered up my spine had nothing to do with the brisk October morning. I skirted a group of girls in front of me, recognizing familiar faces from my geometry class, and found myself staring down at the thick crimson streaks. The letters looked nearly dry, and I couldn’t fight the morbid impulse to touch them. A distinct tackiness remained. Was it corn syrup or actual blood? I didn’t care to investigate further. 

There was no proof that the infamous secret organization made up of Heller High’s elite even existed, but this exhibition had all the makings of a Red Court takedown. Whispers from the ring of students surrounding the car reached me and I stepped backward, edging away from notice until I was part of the throng gathered to witness the scene. It didn’t seem like anyone was paying attention to plain old jeans-and-a-tee-every-day Ember Williams. Good. 

Other words, some so ugly I couldn’t look at them for more than a moment, marred the rest of the car’s windowed surfaces. My eyes skipped to the girl huddled beside a tree next to the parking lot. Tears stained with mascara ran in inky rivulets down her cheeks. Two of her friends rallied around her, whispering softly. 

No amount of consolation was going to wash away the stain from this one. More than a few heads from the crowd were turned in her direction. I didn’t know her name, but I had a feeling she’d be remembered as that girl, the one whose car was vandalized with blood. She’d been marked by the words we’d all seen: liar, cheater, tramp. 

Why did the Red Court target her? Who wanted this girl humiliated—to be brought so low in front of the whole school? Or had she been reckless enough to throw in with them and ask for a favor she couldn’t repay? No. The vulnerability in her expression was too raw to fake. This girl was a pawn in the Red Court’s game. The pull to learn more about the group known for dealing out ruin and favors in equal measure went beyond cursory interest. I needed to know more. 

My stomach gave an uncomfortable tug, as if my body was eager to put distance between me and the girl now that I’d seen the damage. A sob shuddered through her, and I tore my gaze away, shifting my feet and noticing a stickiness below my sneakers. A thick coat of red clung to the bottom of my shoes, marking me too. Ugh. I must have stepped in a pool of the blood. I told myself it was fake blood because I couldn’t stomach the alternative. I’d have to go change into my running shoes before next period. 

“Everyone back inside,” a teacher called from the main doors. His tone left no room for argument. 

The mass of students quickly dissolved, moving back into the school. The whispers rose to chatter as theories were passed around like mono on prom night. I trailed behind a couple holding hands as they maneuvered through the crowd. 

“This is the worst one so far,” the girl said. 

Her boyfriend scoffed. “Worse than the video of Brett Shultz’s keg stand? No way. He got kicked off the football team for that. Brett had Division I schools scouting him, too.” 

A rogue Facebook account cropped up just after the school year began with some incriminating footage of the varsity running back at a party in a stunning display of upper body strength and chugging technique. The video made it all the way to Principal McGovern, who reluctantly had him removed from the team, along with the school’s shot at a state title. 

“Do you really think she cheated on her boyfriend?” someone behind me asked. 

“Does it matter?” his friend responded. 

I shook my head in silent reply. It didn’t matter. That was the power of the Red Court; gossip and innuendo were all it took for a star student to fall from grace after accusations of cheating. 

As I passed a small cluster of teachers just inside the doors, I stepped nearer to catch the edges of their hushed exchange. 

“—needs to do something.” 

“The district’s policy on bullying—” 

“I know the policy, but this is beyond ‘bullying.’ It’s the third time since the school year began.” 

This may have been the third public display of destruction in the last six weeks, but it was hardly the third time the Red Court had struck. Their takedowns were legendary and highly visible to ensure maximum exposure, but they also excelled in the small things no one would notice unless they were looking for anomalies. My eyes were wide open. 

For as long as anyone could remember, there have been rumors that the mysterious Red Court was pulling the strings behind the scenes at Heller High School. Its ranks were shrouded in mystery, but its influence was undeniable. Rigged Student Council elections, changed grades, and ruined reputations were all in their repertoire. 

Half of the school treated them like the Boogeyman, the near mythical thing that was out to get you. It was easier to deny their existence than to acknowledge the specter of their presence. Takedowns like the one outside were as likely to be attributed to the Red Court as they were to be pinned on anonymous wannabes posing as the Red Court to allay suspicion. It seemed like the other half of the over two thousand students at Heller made a sport of trying to guess which members of the prom court were legitimate and which ones owed their wins to the Red Court. 

But I knew the truth.

The Red Court was real, and I needed in. 

I pushed my way through the crowded halls to get to my locker. All around me a chorus of voices carried the news of the Red Court’s latest victim, the story spreading faster than I could move. 

My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was probably my best friend. I ducked into an alcove to check my texts. 

Gideon: Did you hear? 

Me: I saw, actually 

Gideon: And? 

Me: It was probably them. Who else would mess around with that much blood? 

Gideon: Ew. Was it real blood? 

I thought of my shoes again and shuddered. 

Me: Who cares? The car looked like the prom scene from Carrie. They got their point across. 

Gideon: I saw Mrs. Martin leading the girl into her office. 

If something like that ever happened to me, I’d want to be put in the hands of the nicest—and most capable—guidance counselor, too. 

Me: Yeah, I saw her outside. 

Gideon: It’s too bad. She looked wrecked. 

We were reaching the point in the conversation at which I was supposed to condemn the monsters who did this. I wasn’t ready to go there with Gideon. Revealing the true depth of my disgust at everything the Red Court stood for was not something I could do over text. Truthfully, my feelings about the Red Court were this gnarled mass inside of me, too big to start talking about at all. 

Me: I gotta run. Lit is calling. 

Gideon: Ok, see you after. 

Before I’d made it halfway across the school, the warning bell rang. I gave up the attempt to change my shoes and turned to book it upstairs so I could suffer through American Lit with a room full of disenchanted sophomores. Oh joy. On an ordinary day, class was a chore to get through. On a day like today, with my mind busy dissecting the latest Red Court takedown, it seemed like my school would live up to its nickname after all. Welcome to Hell High. 

“Ember?” Mr. Carson called my name like a question.

Crap. I must have missed something. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on Mr. Carson’s analysis of Leaves of Grass, which was a shame. Whitman had some serious 19th century game going on. “I sing the body electric” gave me chills the first time I read it. 

“Yes, Mr. Carson?” 

He sighed impatiently. Or perhaps disappointedly. “Do you have any thoughts on the final section?” 

I glanced at my notes from the night before to read the scribbles aloud, but a mocking voice cut in. 

“Whitman’s talking about the physicality of the body and how it is part of the soul or is the soul. Like it’s just as important as the soul, which at the time was elevated above a person’s body in significance.” 

I threw a baleful look toward Chase Merriman—insufferable know-it-all—and was given a smug half-smile in return. He just loved to one-up me. Mr. Carson turned his gaze to me for more input, but my premeditated discussion points wouldn’t add anything to the dialogue. I gave my Lit teacher as unaffected a shrug as I could manage even though a sharp retort branded with Chase’s name tried to claw its way out of my throat. I pushed it down, not deigning to give Chase the satisfaction of knowing he got under my skin. 

Mr. Carson continued droning on, asking for our “thoughts” and “feelings” about the poem. Poor guy didn’t seem to understand his audience. Disengaged was our default setting. It really took some doing to rouse us. Though Whitman’s work was taboo back in the day, most of the students here had probably seen something more risqué in their Instagram feeds over breakfast this morning. 

The bell rang and Mr. Carson’s shoulders slumped. Another day of not making a difference. I almost felt bad for him, but this was his chosen career path. He had to know what he was getting into when he signed up to teach freaking poetry at a public school. 

“Could you hang back a minute, Ember?” Mr. Carson’s words caught me six inches from the door and freedom. 

I smiled tightly. The next period was my off-hour, but Gideon would be waiting. Every moment I wasted in the classroom diminished the chances of running out for my caffeine fix, which were already slim since I had to trek back across the school to change my sneakers first. I would not spend a moment longer than necessary in these shoes. 

“What’s up, Carson?” He was one of those teachers who thought using “Mr.” in his title meant he was uncool, so I dropped it whenever I needed extra brownie points. Not that my brownie point bank account was in that much need. 

“It’s unlike you to space out during an epic poetry discussion. Everything ok?” 

Mr. Carson was probably my favorite teacher, and we had a strong rapport, but I couldn’t tell if his use of “epic” was sincere. I hoped for his sake he was being cheeky. 

“Just having one of those days, you know?” Vague, Ember, be vague. “I’m sure I’ll be back to contributing the only meaningful insight tomorrow,” I added with a rueful smile, which he returned. 

“Sounds like a plan. So you know, I’m always here if you need an ear.” He shut his copy of Leaves of Grass with a snap, effectively ending our conversation. 

“Thanks!” I bolted out the door as fast as I could without seeming rude. 

Running down the steps two at a time, I nearly crashed into Gideon as he waited at the foot of the stairs near the school’s main entry. 

“What’s the rush, Em?” His words came out in a whoosh as he caught me. 

“I need to stop by my locker before we get coffee. Let’s go!” 

“Seriously? There isn’t time for a detour if we’re going to make it back before the hour is up. Let’s just hit the library instead.” 

He was right of course, but I was in desperate need of a large Americano. I wanted to argue, but once Gideon made a decision, there was no way he’d change his mind. If only there was someone as bullheaded as him on the debate team with me. 

Gideon broke down what he’d heard about the takedown this morning as we walked through the halls. I was too busy sulking to add to the commentary. I spun the combination on my locker, wondering how in the world I could explain the bloody shoes to my mom. The door swung open, and I tossed my bag to the ground. I was already toeing off my sneakers when a flash of red caught my eye. 

The Queen of Hearts sat alone on the top shelf of my locker, the coy smile on her face said she knew something I didn’t. If the rumors were to be believed, she did. A Queen of Hearts was the eponymous calling card of the Red Court’s leader, and its presence could only mean one thing: my invitation had finally come.

Excerpted from These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin, Copyright © 2020 by Katherine Laurin. Published by Inkyard Press. 

PRAISE:

“Ember draws readers into the drama of finding the members of the Red Court… Recommend this to fans of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds.” –School Library Journal

“Laurin’s novel tackles the destructive power of high school bullying through characters who are compelling in their complexity.” –Kirkus Reviews

SOCIAL LINKS:

Twitter: @writerkatherine

Instagram: @kl_writer

Author Website: https://katherinelaurin.com/

BUY LINKS:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Apple Books

Indie Bound

Bookshop.org 

Books-a-Million

Kobo

~Cassie

Blog tour: When I was you by Amber Garza

Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. All photos and information was also kindly provided by them.

WHEN I WAS YOU

Author: Amber Garza 

ISBN:     9780778361046

Publication Date: August 25, 2020 

Publisher: MIRA Books

BOOK SUMMARY: 

YOU meets FATAL ATTRACTION in this up-all-night psychological thriller about a lonely empty-nester’s growing obsession with a young mother who shares her name.

It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son’s pediatrician to confirm her upcoming “well-baby” appointment. It’s a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly has never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there’s another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.

But Kelly can’t stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can’t help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician’s office, it’s simple curiosity getting the better of her.

Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose, taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession, and when one Kelly disappears, well, the other one may know why.

Review

This book is one of the best representations of an unreliable narrator that I have ever read. Kelly is not likable by any means but it was so fascinating being in her head. On one hand she is very judgmental and cringey but on the other hand, the more you read the more you start to understand her. This book was hard for me to put down because the story builds in small moments of disbelief and I found myself wanting to know if what I thought was happening was reality. Garza did an amazing job of building the story where the reader is constantly guessing at what is going on. We mostly follow Kelly as she is going along with her day to day but we also got flashbacks and therapy sessions that open our eyes up to a broader view of her world. There were many times where I was irritated by Kelly but there were also moments where my heart hurt for her. Now would be a good time to list some trigger warnings including mental and physical abuse, past loss of a baby and possible mental health triggers. This book builds to an amazing ending that it very deserving of the twisted ride we took to get there. It was possible to see where this story was going but Garza left us with enough plausible deniability that I still found it satisfying. I flew through this book and I can’t recommend it enough to all my thriller lovers out there. This book is a cross between a domestic thriller and a psychological one so I really feel like it will appeal to a wide range of readers. If you don’t typically read thrillers but this book sounds intriguing to you then keep reading for an excerpt of the first chapter of this book.

BIO: 

Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they’re real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California, which is—no joke—home to another Amber Garza.

SOCIAL:

Author Website: http://www.ambergarza.com/

TWITTER: @ambermg1

FB: @ambergarzaauthor

Insta: @ambergarzaauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5582891.Amber_Garza

Excerpt

Chapter One

It was a Monday morning in early October when I first heard about you. I was getting out of the shower when my phone rang. After throwing on a robe and cinching it, I ran into my bedroom, snatching my cell off the nightstand. 

Unknown number.

Normally, I let those go. But I’d already run all the way in here, and I thought maybe it was a call from Dr. Hillerman’s office. 

“Hello?” I answered, breathless. Goosebumps rose on my pale flesh, so I pulled the robe tighter around me. My sopping wet hair dripped down my back. 

“Is this Kelly Medina?” 

Great. A salesperson. “Yes,” I answered, wishing I hadn’t picked up.

“Hi, Kelly, this is Nancy from Dr. Cramer’s office. I’m calling to remind you of your well-baby appointment this Friday at ten am.” 

“Well-baby?” I let out a surprised laugh. “You’re about nineteen years too late.” 

“Excuse me?” Nancy asked, clearly confused.

 “My son isn’t a baby,” I explained. “He’s nineteen.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Nancy immediately replied. I could hear the clicking of a keyboard.  “I apologize. I called the wrong Kelly Medina.” 

“There’s another Kelly Medina in Folsom?” My maiden name had been Smith. There are a million other Kelly Smiths in the world. In California, even. But since I’d married Rafael, I’d never met another Kelly Medina. Until now.

Until you.

“Yes. Her child is a new patient.”

It felt like yesterday when my child was a new patient. I remembered sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Cramer’s office, holding my tiny newborn, waiting for the nurse to call my name. 

 “I have no idea how this happened. It’s like your numbers got switched in the system or something,” Nancy muttered, and I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or herself. “Again, I’m so sorry.”

I assured her it was fine, and hung up. My hair was still wet from the shower, but instead of blow-drying it I headed downstairs to make some tea first. On my way, I passed Aaron’s room. The door was closed, so I pressed it open with my palm. The wood was cold against my skin. Shivering, I took in his neatly made bed, the movie posters tacked to the wall, the darkened desktop computer in the corner.

Leaning against the doorframe of Aaron’s room, my mind flew back to the day he left for college. I remembered his broad smile, his sparkling eyes. He’d been so anxious to leave here. To leave me. I should’ve been happy for him. He was doing what I’d raised him to do. 

Boys were supposed to grow up and leave. 

In my head I knew that. But in my heart it was hard to let him go. 

After closing Aaron’s door, I headed down to the kitchen. 

The house was silent. It used to be filled with noise – Aaron’s little feet stomping down the hallway, his sound effects as he played with toys, his chattering as he got older. Now it was always quiet. Especially during the week when Rafael stayed in the Bay Area for work. Aaron had been gone over a year. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But, actually, it seemed to get worse over time. The constant silence. 

The phone call had thrown me. For a second it felt like I’d gone back in time, something I longed for most days. When Aaron was born everyone told me to savor all the moments because it went by too quickly. It was hard for me to imagine. I hadn’t had the easiest life growing up, and it certainly hadn’t flown by. And the nine months I was pregnant with Aaron had gone on forever, every day longer than the one before. 

But they were right.

Aaron’s childhood was fleeting. The moments were elusive like a butterfly, practically impossible to catch. And now it was gone. He was a man. And I was alone.

Rafael kept encouraging me to find a job to fill my time, but I’d already tried that. When Aaron first left, I applied for a bunch of jobs. Since I’d been out of work for so long, no one wanted to hire me. That’s when Christine suggested I volunteer somewhere. So I started helping out at a local food bank, handing out food once a week and occasionally doing a little administrative stuff. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough. It barely filled any of my time. Besides, I was one of many volunteers. I wasn’t needed. Not the way Aaron had needed me when he was a child. 

When he left, the Kelly I’d always known ceased to exist. Vanished into thin air. I was merely a ghost now, haunting my house, the streets, the town.  

As the water boiled, I thought about you. Thought about how lucky you were to have a baby and your whole life ahead of you. I wondered what you were doing right now. Not sitting alone in your big, silent house, I bet. No, you were probably chasing your cute little baby around your sunny living room, the floor littered with toys, as he crawled on all fours and laughed.

Was your child a boy? The lady on the phone didn’t say, but that’s what I pictured. A chubby, smiling little boy like my Aaron. 

The kettle squealed, and I flinched. I poured the boiling water in a mug and steam rose from it, circling the air in front of my face. Tossing in the tea bag, I breathed it in, leaning my back against the cool tile counter. The picture window in front of me revealed our perfectly manicured front yard – bright green grass lined with rose bushes. I’d always been particular about the roses. When Aaron was a kid he always wanted to help with the pruning, but I never let him. Afraid he’d mess them up, I guess. Seemed silly now. 

Heart pinching, I blew out a breath.

I wondered about your yard. What did it look like? Did you have roses? I wondered if you’d let your son help you prune them. I wondered if you’d make the same mistakes I had.

Bringing the mug to my lips, I took a tiny sip of the hot tea. It was mint, my favorite. I allowed the flavors to sit on my tongue a minute before swallowing it down. The refrigerator hummed. The ice shifted in the ice maker. My shoulders tensed slightly. I rolled them out, taking another sip. 

Shoving off the counter, I was headed toward the stairs when my cell buzzed inside my pocket. My pulse spiked. It couldn’t be Rafael. He was a professor and his first class had already started.

Aaron? 

Nope. It was a text from Christine. 

Going to yoga this morning? 

I’d already showered. I was about to tackle my latest organization project. Today was the kitchen pantry. Last week I’d bought a bunch of new containers and bins. Friday I’d spent the day labeling all of them. After taking the weekend off since Rafael was home, I was anxious to continue with it. I’d already organized several closets downstairs, but my plan was to work my way through all the closets and cabinets in the house. 

Usually I loved yoga, but I had way too much to do today.  

No, I typed. Then bit my lip. Backspaced. Stared at the phone. My own reflection emerged on the slick screen – disheveled hair, pale face, dark circles under the eyes. 

You need to get out more. Exercise. It’s not healthy to sit in the house all day. Rafael’s voice echoed in my head.  

The organizing would still be here tomorrow. Besides, who was I kidding? I’d probably only spend a couple of hours organizing before abandoning my project to read online blogs and articles, or dive into the latest murder mystery I was reading.

I typed, yes, then sent it and hurried to my room to get ready. 

Thirty minutes later, I was parking in front of the gym. When I stepped out, a cool breeze whisked over my arms. After three scorching hot summer months, I welcomed it. Fall had always been my favorite season. I relished the festiveness of it. Pumpkins, apples, rustic colors. But mostly it was the leaves falling and being raked away. The bareness of the trees. The shedding of the old to make room for the new. An end, but also a beginning.

Although, we weren’t quite there yet. The leaves were still green, and by afternoon the air would be warm. But in the mornings and evenings we got a tiny sip of a fall, enough to make me thirsty for more. 

Securing the gym bag on my shoulder, I walked briskly through the lot. Once inside, it was even colder. The AC blasted as if it was a hundred-degree day. That’s okay. It gave me more of an incentive to break a sweat. Smiling at the receptionist, I pulled out my keys for her to scan my card. Only my card wasn’t hanging from my key ring. 

I fished around in my bag, but it wasn’t there either. Flushing, I offered the bored receptionist an apologetic smile. “I seem to have misplaced my tag. Can you look me up? Kelly Medina?’

Her eyes widened. “Funny. There was another lady in here earlier today with the same name.”

My heart pounded. I’d been attending this gym for years and never had anyone mentioned you before. I wondered how long you’d worked out here. “Is she still here?” My gaze scoured the lobby as if I might recognize you. 

“No. She was here super early.”

Of course you were. I used to be, too, when Aaron was an infant. 

“Okay. You’re all checked in, Kelly,” the receptionist said, buzzing me in. 

Clutching my gym bag, I made my way up the stairs toward the yoga room, thoughts of you flooding my mind. A few young women walked next to me, wearing tight tank tops and pants, gym bags hanging off their shoulders. They were laughing and chatting loudly, their long ponytails bouncing behind their heads. I tried to say excuse me, to move past them, but they couldn’t hear me. Impatient, I bit my lip and walked slowly behind them. Finally, I made it to the top. They headed toward the cardio machines, and I pressed open the door to the yoga room.

I spotted Christine already sitting on her mat. Her blond hair was pulled back into a perfectly coifed ponytail. Her eyes were bright and her lips were shiny. I smoothed down my unruly brown hair and licked my dry lips. 

She waved me over with a large smile. “You made it.”

“Yep.” I dropped my mat and bag next to hers. 

“I wasn’t sure. It’s been awhile.”

Shrugging, I sat down on my mat. “Been busy.”

“Oh, I totally get that.” She waved away my words with a flick of her slender wrist. “Maddie and Mason have had a bazillion activities lately. I’ve been running around town like a crazy person. I honestly feel like I’m going insane.”

“Sounds rough,” I muttered, slipping off my flip-flops. This was the problem with getting married and having a kid so young. Most of my friends were still raising families. 

“I know, right? I can’t wait until they’re adults and I can do whatever I want.”

“Yeah, it’s the best,” I said sarcastically. 

Her mouth dropped. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking about you…” Her pale cheeks turned pink. “I know how much you miss Aaron. It’s just…” 

I shook my head and offered her a smile “Relax. I get it.”

Christine and I met years ago in a yoga class. She’s one of those women with almost no self-awareness. It’s what first drew to me to her. I loved how raw and real she was. Other people shied away from her, unable to handle her filter-less statements. But I found her refreshing and, honestly, pretty entertaining. 

 “I remember how insane it was when Aaron was younger,” I said. “One year he signed up for baseball and basketball. They overlapped for a bit, and I swear I was taking him to a game or practice like every day.”

“Yes!” Christine said excitedly, relief evident in her expression. “Sometimes it’s all just too much.”

“Yeah, sometimes it is,” I agreed. 

The class was about to start and the room was filling up. It was mainly women, but there were some men. Most of them were with their wives or girlfriends. I’d tried getting Rafael to come with me before, but he laughed as if the idea was preposterous. 

“Remember when there were only a few of us in this class?” Christine asked, her gaze sweeping the room.

I nodded, glancing around. There were so many new people I didn’t know. Not that I was surprised. Folsom had grown a lot in the ten years I’d lived here. New people moved here every day.

Staring at all the strangers crowding around us, I shivered, my thoughts drifting back to you. We hadn’t even met, and yet I felt like I knew you. We had the same name, the same gym, the same pediatrician for our child. 

It felt like kismet. Fate had brought you here to me. I was certain of it. 

But why? 

Excerpted from When I Was You by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2020 by Amber Garza. Published by MIRA Books.

Chapter One

It was a Monday morning in early October when I first heard about you. I was getting out of the shower when my phone rang. After throwing on a robe and cinching it, I ran into my bedroom, snatching my cell off the nightstand. 

Unknown number.

Normally, I let those go. But I’d already run all the way in here, and I thought maybe it was a call from Dr. Hillerman’s office. 

“Hello?” I answered, breathless. Goosebumps rose on my pale flesh, so I pulled the robe tighter around me. My sopping wet hair dripped down my back. 

“Is this Kelly Medina?” 

Great. A salesperson. “Yes,” I answered, wishing I hadn’t picked up.

“Hi, Kelly, this is Nancy from Dr. Cramer’s office. I’m calling to remind you of your well-baby appointment this Friday at ten am.” 

“Well-baby?” I let out a surprised laugh. “You’re about nineteen years too late.” 

“Excuse me?” Nancy asked, clearly confused.

 “My son isn’t a baby,” I explained. “He’s nineteen.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Nancy immediately replied. I could hear the clicking of a keyboard.  “I apologize. I called the wrong Kelly Medina.” 

“There’s another Kelly Medina in Folsom?” My maiden name had been Smith. There are a million other Kelly Smiths in the world. In California, even. But since I’d married Rafael, I’d never met another Kelly Medina. Until now.

Until you.

“Yes. Her child is a new patient.”

It felt like yesterday when my child was a new patient. I remembered sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Cramer’s office, holding my tiny newborn, waiting for the nurse to call my name. 

 “I have no idea how this happened. It’s like your numbers got switched in the system or something,” Nancy muttered, and I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or herself. “Again, I’m so sorry.”

I assured her it was fine, and hung up. My hair was still wet from the shower, but instead of blow-drying it I headed downstairs to make some tea first. On my way, I passed Aaron’s room. The door was closed, so I pressed it open with my palm. The wood was cold against my skin. Shivering, I took in his neatly made bed, the movie posters tacked to the wall, the darkened desktop computer in the corner.

Leaning against the doorframe of Aaron’s room, my mind flew back to the day he left for college. I remembered his broad smile, his sparkling eyes. He’d been so anxious to leave here. To leave me. I should’ve been happy for him. He was doing what I’d raised him to do. 

Boys were supposed to grow up and leave. 

In my head I knew that. But in my heart it was hard to let him go. 

After closing Aaron’s door, I headed down to the kitchen. 

The house was silent. It used to be filled with noise – Aaron’s little feet stomping down the hallway, his sound effects as he played with toys, his chattering as he got older. Now it was always quiet. Especially during the week when Rafael stayed in the Bay Area for work. Aaron had been gone over a year. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But, actually, it seemed to get worse over time. The constant silence. 

The phone call had thrown me. For a second it felt like I’d gone back in time, something I longed for most days. When Aaron was born everyone told me to savor all the moments because it went by too quickly. It was hard for me to imagine. I hadn’t had the easiest life growing up, and it certainly hadn’t flown by. And the nine months I was pregnant with Aaron had gone on forever, every day longer than the one before. 

But they were right.

Aaron’s childhood was fleeting. The moments were elusive like a butterfly, practically impossible to catch. And now it was gone. He was a man. And I was alone.

Rafael kept encouraging me to find a job to fill my time, but I’d already tried that. When Aaron first left, I applied for a bunch of jobs. Since I’d been out of work for so long, no one wanted to hire me. That’s when Christine suggested I volunteer somewhere. So I started helping out at a local food bank, handing out food once a week and occasionally doing a little administrative stuff. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough. It barely filled any of my time. Besides, I was one of many volunteers. I wasn’t needed. Not the way Aaron had needed me when he was a child. 

When he left, the Kelly I’d always known ceased to exist. Vanished into thin air. I was merely a ghost now, haunting my house, the streets, the town.  

As the water boiled, I thought about you. Thought about how lucky you were to have a baby and your whole life ahead of you. I wondered what you were doing right now. Not sitting alone in your big, silent house, I bet. No, you were probably chasing your cute little baby around your sunny living room, the floor littered with toys, as he crawled on all fours and laughed.

Was your child a boy? The lady on the phone didn’t say, but that’s what I pictured. A chubby, smiling little boy like my Aaron. 

The kettle squealed, and I flinched. I poured the boiling water in a mug and steam rose from it, circling the air in front of my face. Tossing in the tea bag, I breathed it in, leaning my back against the cool tile counter. The picture window in front of me revealed our perfectly manicured front yard – bright green grass lined with rose bushes. I’d always been particular about the roses. When Aaron was a kid he always wanted to help with the pruning, but I never let him. Afraid he’d mess them up, I guess. Seemed silly now. 

Heart pinching, I blew out a breath.

I wondered about your yard. What did it look like? Did you have roses? I wondered if you’d let your son help you prune them. I wondered if you’d make the same mistakes I had.

Bringing the mug to my lips, I took a tiny sip of the hot tea. It was mint, my favorite. I allowed the flavors to sit on my tongue a minute before swallowing it down. The refrigerator hummed. The ice shifted in the ice maker. My shoulders tensed slightly. I rolled them out, taking another sip. 

Shoving off the counter, I was headed toward the stairs when my cell buzzed inside my pocket. My pulse spiked. It couldn’t be Rafael. He was a professor and his first class had already started.

Aaron? 

Nope. It was a text from Christine. 

Going to yoga this morning? 

I’d already showered. I was about to tackle my latest organization project. Today was the kitchen pantry. Last week I’d bought a bunch of new containers and bins. Friday I’d spent the day labeling all of them. After taking the weekend off since Rafael was home, I was anxious to continue with it. I’d already organized several closets downstairs, but my plan was to work my way through all the closets and cabinets in the house. 

Usually I loved yoga, but I had way too much to do today.  

No, I typed. Then bit my lip. Backspaced. Stared at the phone. My own reflection emerged on the slick screen – disheveled hair, pale face, dark circles under the eyes. 

You need to get out more. Exercise. It’s not healthy to sit in the house all day. Rafael’s voice echoed in my head.  

The organizing would still be here tomorrow. Besides, who was I kidding? I’d probably only spend a couple of hours organizing before abandoning my project to read online blogs and articles, or dive into the latest murder mystery I was reading.

I typed, yes, then sent it and hurried to my room to get ready. 

Thirty minutes later, I was parking in front of the gym. When I stepped out, a cool breeze whisked over my arms. After three scorching hot summer months, I welcomed it. Fall had always been my favorite season. I relished the festiveness of it. Pumpkins, apples, rustic colors. But mostly it was the leaves falling and being raked away. The bareness of the trees. The shedding of the old to make room for the new. An end, but also a beginning.

Although, we weren’t quite there yet. The leaves were still green, and by afternoon the air would be warm. But in the mornings and evenings we got a tiny sip of a fall, enough to make me thirsty for more. 

Securing the gym bag on my shoulder, I walked briskly through the lot. Once inside, it was even colder. The AC blasted as if it was a hundred-degree day. That’s okay. It gave me more of an incentive to break a sweat. Smiling at the receptionist, I pulled out my keys for her to scan my card. Only my card wasn’t hanging from my key ring. 

I fished around in my bag, but it wasn’t there either. Flushing, I offered the bored receptionist an apologetic smile. “I seem to have misplaced my tag. Can you look me up? Kelly Medina?’

Her eyes widened. “Funny. There was another lady in here earlier today with the same name.”

My heart pounded. I’d been attending this gym for years and never had anyone mentioned you before. I wondered how long you’d worked out here. “Is she still here?” My gaze scoured the lobby as if I might recognize you. 

“No. She was here super early.”

Of course you were. I used to be, too, when Aaron was an infant. 

“Okay. You’re all checked in, Kelly,” the receptionist said, buzzing me in. 

Clutching my gym bag, I made my way up the stairs toward the yoga room, thoughts of you flooding my mind. A few young women walked next to me, wearing tight tank tops and pants, gym bags hanging off their shoulders. They were laughing and chatting loudly, their long ponytails bouncing behind their heads. I tried to say excuse me, to move past them, but they couldn’t hear me. Impatient, I bit my lip and walked slowly behind them. Finally, I made it to the top. They headed toward the cardio machines, and I pressed open the door to the yoga room.

I spotted Christine already sitting on her mat. Her blond hair was pulled back into a perfectly coifed ponytail. Her eyes were bright and her lips were shiny. I smoothed down my unruly brown hair and licked my dry lips. 

She waved me over with a large smile. “You made it.”

“Yep.” I dropped my mat and bag next to hers. 

“I wasn’t sure. It’s been awhile.”

Shrugging, I sat down on my mat. “Been busy.”

“Oh, I totally get that.” She waved away my words with a flick of her slender wrist. “Maddie and Mason have had a bazillion activities lately. I’ve been running around town like a crazy person. I honestly feel like I’m going insane.”

“Sounds rough,” I muttered, slipping off my flip-flops. This was the problem with getting married and having a kid so young. Most of my friends were still raising families. 

“I know, right? I can’t wait until they’re adults and I can do whatever I want.”

“Yeah, it’s the best,” I said sarcastically. 

Her mouth dropped. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking about you…” Her pale cheeks turned pink. “I know how much you miss Aaron. It’s just…” 

I shook my head and offered her a smile “Relax. I get it.”

Christine and I met years ago in a yoga class. She’s one of those women with almost no self-awareness. It’s what first drew to me to her. I loved how raw and real she was. Other people shied away from her, unable to handle her filter-less statements. But I found her refreshing and, honestly, pretty entertaining. 

 “I remember how insane it was when Aaron was younger,” I said. “One year he signed up for baseball and basketball. They overlapped for a bit, and I swear I was taking him to a game or practice like every day.”

“Yes!” Christine said excitedly, relief evident in her expression. “Sometimes it’s all just too much.”

“Yeah, sometimes it is,” I agreed. 

The class was about to start and the room was filling up. It was mainly women, but there were some men. Most of them were with their wives or girlfriends. I’d tried getting Rafael to come with me before, but he laughed as if the idea was preposterous. 

“Remember when there were only a few of us in this class?” Christine asked, her gaze sweeping the room.

I nodded, glancing around. There were so many new people I didn’t know. Not that I was surprised. Folsom had grown a lot in the ten years I’d lived here. New people moved here every day.

Staring at all the strangers crowding around us, I shivered, my thoughts drifting back to you. We hadn’t even met, and yet I felt like I knew you. We had the same name, the same gym, the same pediatrician for our child. 

It felt like kismet. Fate had brought you here to me. I was certain of it. 

But why? 

Excerpted from When I Was You by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2020 by Amber Garza. Published by MIRA Books.

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~Cassie